Celtic Woods and Wires

Each Saint Patrick’s Day, Celtic Wood and Wires steps into the spotlight bringing music from the British Isles to our region and beyond. However, according to band members, Saint Patrick’s Day is more like Saint Patrick’s Month. Bookings soar in March, sometimes with dual gigs on a single day.

“(March) means we get to share the music we love with more people,” explains Shelley Whitnack, who is a vocalist as well as a fiddle, viola and ukulele player with the group.

But their time on the stage isn’t limited to March. Year round, the seasoned musicians perform at venues throughout northcentral and southcentral Pennsylvania. Weddings, festivals, pubs and wineries host the band that performs music from Ireland and Scotland and a “wee bit” from Appalachia.

For the band, no proper stage is needed to perform.

Billie Jo Shank, who plays Irish and silver flute and tin whistle, says, “While checking into a hotel in Lancaster, after playing a gig, we met some guests sitting in the lobby. The next thing we knew, we had our instruments out and gave an impromptu performance while we sat around the fireplace. It wasn’t long before the lobby was crowded with more hotel guests checking in and coming out of their rooms to see where the music was coming from. To me, music is something that brings people together.”

Carl Finnerty, vocals and bodhran drum, says that St. Patrick’s Day is much more than the stereotypical American celebration with copious partying.

“When I visited Ireland, they had their parties like we do here, but to them it means much more. It’s a religious holiday and is a day for them to celebrate their own culture and heritage, as they have been oppressed and enslaved in the past,” says Carl.

Carl explains his love for British Isles music saying, “For me, it’s taking so many songs and tunes, some of them centuries old, that tell stories about the good times in everyday life, good fortune, love and marriage and of course about a wee bit of drinking.

But there is also music about the not so good times, including betrayal, lost loves, famine, death, oppression by other governments, rebellion, etc. Take all of that music, mesh it together and that’s what moves me about the music.”

In addition to Whitnack, Shank and Carl, band members include Sandi Finnerty, Carl’s wife (violin, fiddle and mandolin), and Mike J. Miller (song writer, vocals, guitar and Irish bouzouki).

Sandi loves to teach the history and story of the music to people in her community, whether it’s at school or her church. She has played violin since the age of seven, and has worked with Captain and Tenille and The Four Tops.

“Music has always brought me a lot of joy. It feeds my soul.”

The band’s debut album “Shut the Back Door,” was released last year. Miller wrote many of the songs for the album and takes great pride in “A Bird So Rare.”

“I wrote it on my Irish Bouzouki while feeling a deep sense of thankfulness after my wife and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary,” says Miller.

Should you want to see the band live year-round, Celtic Wood and Wires performs at Backhouse Cafe in Williamsport on the 2nd and 4th Friday every month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For additional gigs or to check out their album, visit celticwoodandwires.com.


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